March 20 - March 24

Door still open for stragglers; Budget bill on the move again; Unanimous vote for Regents; Big bills await big decisions 

Although the vast majority of the 4,638 requested bills that will see the light of day have been introduced (1,531 as of Friday), there is still time and accommodation for latecomers to the party. Appropriation bills, revenue bills, and bills proposing referenda may be introduced as late as March 28. There may not be much left for them at the buffet table (dried up cheese cubes at best), but the process provides enough time for these categories of proposals to meet all prescribed deadlines. Stragglers continue to file in and the OCHE team continues to keep a watchful eye.

The Budget
The House on Wednesday held an all-day floor session to consider House Bill 2, the General Appropriations Act, and by end-of-business, had voted to send the bill to the Senate where it will land in the Senate Finance and Claims Committee for another round of hearings, discussion, public comment, and potential amendments. This process could begin as soon as Thursday of next week. No amendments were offered for the MUS budget, and it remains as it did when the bill left House Appropriations.

As previously reported, the MUS budget includes the following components:

  • nearly $450 million for the MUS education units;
  • a 14.6% increase for the Community Colleges;
  • an 8% increase for campus agencies;
  • One-Time-Only funds for the Seamless System Initiative, the Sprint Degree Initiative, and the One-Two-Free Program; and
  • An increase in funding for the Montana Agricultural Experiment Station and MSU Extension for precision agriculture program staffing and research.

Regents Confirmed
On Monday, the Senate unanimously endorsed Senate Resolutions 32 and 51, officially confirming Board of Regents members Jeff Southworth and Norris Blossom.

Constitutional Referendum
As of Friday, the House Judiciary Committee had not acted on HB 517, heard in that committee on March 13. HB 517 is a referendum to revise the Board of Regents’ constitutional authority to manage the university system. As proposed, the amendment would revise Art. X, section IX of the Montana Constitution to require the board of regents to adopt policies that “protect the rights and associated civil liberties provided in the Montana constitution and those provided in the United States constitution.” It would also add that “the board of regents of higher education and units of the Montana university system are not exempt from laws of general applicability.” The university system, student lobbyists and other groups opposed the measure.

On Friday, amendments requested by the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Mike Hopkins (R-Missoula), became available. The proposed amendments would add language stating that the changes to the constitutional authority “may not be construed to allow the legislature to direct curriculum within the Montana university system.”

If HB 517 is passed and approved by 100 members of the legislature, the measure will be placed on the 2024 ballot for a vote.

Updates and What to Watch
The House Appropriations Committee has approved and passed out of Committee HB 5, the Long-range building appropriations bill, and HB 10, the Long-range information technology financing and appropriation bill. HB 5 came into the Committee with recommended approval of all MUS projects included in the executive’s budget. In total the subcommittee recommended $130M in capital projects, $25M in major repairs, and $40M in supplemental funding. The Subcommittee also recommended approval of $23.5M cash & $22.5M in authority for Gallatin College and $25M cash for the Health and Recreation Complex (Aurora Complex) at MSU Northern.

HB 10 is reserved for financing of state information technology and capital projects. MUS projects are typically not included in HB 10. This session, however, the Section F subcommittee adopted an amendment to appropriate $6,164,320 to UM through the MUS for CyberMontana cybersecurity initiative. The amendment would require UM to submit a project and security plan to the state’s CIO before funds could be released.

The bills have not yet been scheduled for debate on the House floor.

HB 288 – Revises laws related to tuition waivers for American Indian students
HB 288 proposes to expand tuition waivers for American Indian students. The bill was tabled in the House Education Committee but was reconsidered and passed out of committee on February 24 with an amendment. As amended, HB 288 would remove the ¼ blood quantum requirement and expand the waiver to descendants of Indian tribes located within the boundaries of the state. HB 288 passed second reading in the House (62-37) and was heard in House Appropriations on March 15. The Committee has not yet acted on the bill. 

HB 482 – Provide access to education and supports for children aging out of foster care
HB 482 would establish a Montana foster youth higher education assistance program administered by the Board of Regents through OCHE for the purpose of “helping youth who have aged out of the foster care system meet their educational, vocational, and professional goals without accruing debt.” The bill does not include an appropriation to administer or fund the program. The bill passed the House by large margins and has been assigned to the Senate Education and Cultural Resources Committee which has not yet scheduled a hearing.

HB 496 -- Provide for health care preceptor individual tax credit
HB 496 seeks to provide a preceptor of a student in an eligible health care program a $1,000 tax credit for each clinical rotation up to $5,000. The bill passed out of the House Taxation Committee as amended to expand the credit to preceptors who are pharmacists, physical therapists, occupational therapists and speech therapists. It has not yet been scheduled for 2nd Reading on the House Floor.

Time Served

Legislative Day: 59

Percent Complete: 65.56%